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Improving Productivity by Improving Lighting

Improving Productivity by Improving Lighting
Lightbulb

    We all know that our surroundings affect our ability to get work done, from that irritating buzzing from the next cubicle over to the uncomfortable chair causing our back pain. But what about lighting? Has the flicker of fluorescent lighting finally gotten to you?

    There are plenty of problems attributed to lighting, from migraines to eye strain. On top of the physical issues, though, depending on the type of lighting in your work area, you may be running into some mental issues as well.

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    For me, insufficient lighting is practically a guarantee that I’m not going to be productive. I may even nod off for a while. In order to get my work done, I have to have some decent lighting! Even a minor change in the lights in my workspace have improved my productivity enormously, making it easier for me to focus on my work, and even to see it.

    Choosing the right lighting

    Picking out light bulbs can be just as important as picking out a comfortable chair. You have to take into account glare from your computer screen, environmental impact and cost, as well as what level of lighting you work best in. And lighting doesn’t just affect your mood at work. Many people subconsciously choose home lighting that doesn’t remind them of their work environment.

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    Most office buildings rely on light bulbs in the 6500K range, or about the same lighting level as daylight. I use 6500K light bulbs in my home office as well — they’re available just about everywhere, although brands seem to pick and choose whether to label their bulbs as ‘daylight’ or ‘6500K.’ I’ve found that it’s much easier to keep myself on track with better lighting — in the past I’ve relied on an open window augmented by a desk lamp with a fairly weak light bulb.

    Lighting designers routinely recommend that desk workers rely on two light sources for their offices: a general indirect lighting source to generally brighten up a room and “task lighting,” a small direct light source that can be focused on the paper you’re reading or another task at hand. While fluorescents and other options are fine for general illumination, but halogen bulbs are better for detail work, because halogen renders colors with a clarity that other types of lighting often lack.

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    Ideas for making the switch

    To provide examples of improvements you can make to your office lighting, we have three lighting makeovers. You can draw ideas from these situations, especially if you don’t have the option of finding a lighting designer for your work space.

    Steve works in an office in an older building. He can see a window from his desk, but most of his lighting comes from the bevy of fluorescent panels installed in the drop ceiling. For Steve, the most crucial lighting issue is the glare on his monitor. Steve’s first step is turning off the fluorescents entirely. Because he’s in an older building, he may actually have more lighting than he needs, due to old school lighting designers’ good intentions to provide workers with as much light as possible. To replace the fluorescents, Steve brings in lamps, to provide indirect lighting. He also chooses to look for a daylight bulb to help him stay on track. He adds a goose neck lamp that he can redirect to whichever task he’s focused on.

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    James works in a studio and, as an artist, needs more control over his lighting than Steve does. While he’s looked into dimmer switches and related options, James has decided that he wants multiple fixtures for finer control. For the main light source in the room, he chooses a fluorescent bulb of the ‘natural color’ variety — a bit softer than daylight but a good bulb for color rendition, a key factor for an artist. James also invests in several small lamps that he can easily manipulate, choosing halogen bulbs so that he can bring as much light to bear on his work as necessary.

    George works in his home office, in his basement. He rarely gets a chance to see sunlight during his work day and wants to use daylight bulbs to bring brightness into his work space. However, he’s also concerned about saving money on his electric bill. George opts for compact fluorescent bulbs, which have a higher initial cost but are more efficient than the incandescent and fluorescent bulbs George was considering. That efficiency means a lower electricity bill for George. He finds 6500K, or daylight, compact fluorescent bulbs that work with three-way lamps — they offer up three different settings so that George can control his light source to match what he’s doing.

    Beyond examples

    These three work areas were simple samples of a few changes that can be made to your work area. Consider lighting as another facet of ergonomics, and you may even be able to convince a manager to make the changes for you. Improvements don’t need to be limited to work areas, either. Consider improving the mood in the relaxing areas of your home, such as your bedroom, just by changing out that daylight light bulb for something more soothing.

    There are thousands of lighting combinations available, even for the amateur lighting designer. You may have to try out a couple to find that particular combination that improves your personal productivity. I know from experience, however, that even a little change can be well worth the effort. Even changing a single light bulb can relieve eye strain, save money and generally make it easier to work.

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    Last Updated on August 20, 2019

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

    This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

    The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard. Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

    Curiosity

    Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

    People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

    Patience

    Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

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    When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

    Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

    A Feeling for Connectedness

    This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

    A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

    The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

    With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

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    1. Research

    Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

    Learning the Basics

    Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

    Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

    What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

    Hitting the Books

    Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

    Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

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    Long-Term Reference

    While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

    My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

    2. Practice

    Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

    A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

    Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

    3. Network

    One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

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    These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

    Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

    4. Schedule

    For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

    Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

    Final Thoughts

    In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

    If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

    At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

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    Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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